On Monday, it was revealed that the Minnesota Twins were the team that submitted the highest bid ($12.85M) to the Nexen Heroes for the right to discuss a contract over the next 30 days with Byung-ho Park. I have to admit that I was following the list of teams ruled “out” on Sunday from various media sources and I was starting to get excited as the Pirates were, seemingly, in the final five teams. But alas, on Monday morning both Buster Olney and Travis Sawchik tweeted that the Pirates did not receive the winning bid.
Heard this morning that the Pirates did NOT win the bidding for Byung-ho Park. Developing ?
? Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 9, 2015
FWIW, a source in S.Korea suspects Twins will likely be bid winners. They’ve had a full-time scout in S.Korea since 2009
? Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) November 9, 2015
What’s strange to me is seeing the tweets from Pirate bloggers and fans saying that missing out on Park isn’t a big deal. Many say that upgrading the rotation is the bigger priority. To me, this is just a form of rationalization these people are telling themselves after missing out. Every one of these bloggers and fans would have been elated if the Pirates won the bid to negotiate with Park. There would have been South Korean flags e-flying on Twitter and tons of videos posted showing Kang and Park chummily hanging out in Nexen’s dugout.
I’ve discussed my desire for the Pirates to get Park on numerous occasions, including last week’s article about available 1B upgrades and in the 2016 Pirate payroll and roster article. It was shown in the payroll article that with the projected $105M payroll that the Pirates could reasonably afford to spend $10M on a 1B this offseason, whether through a trade or free agent signing. Now that Park is out the picture, it’s time to consider the next step. What that next step is depends on how you feel about these questions:
Is Michael Morse a starting 1B for the Pirates in 2016?
If you say “yes”, then all the Pirates need to do is find a defensively-sound backup that can potentially handle 1B, as Morse does not have a platoon split over his career. The right-handed Morse has a career line of .273/.335/.472 (808 OPS) against lefties and a career line of .278/.332/.456 (787 OPS) against righties.
If you say “no”, you probably point to his defensive…uh, shortcomings…and his downward trending performances since 2011 (save for a rebound year in 2014 with the Giants, because why not, it’s the Giants during an even year) and the fact he’ll be 34 in 2016. You may also look at how the Pirates did, or more accurately did not, use him after acquiring him this past July. In just 82 plate appearances over 45 games, Morse only hit 1 HR and had an anemic isolated slugging percentage of .116.
Is Josh Bell the next great 1B for the Pirates?
If you say “yes”, then you probably aren’t truly upset about the Pirates not winning the Park sweepstakes. Since the 29-year old Park would most likely sign a four-year deal, this would essentially block out Josh Bell for the foreseeable future. In this scenario, Bell would probably end up being a trade chip for the Pirates. To you, Bell could conceivably come up in mid-2016, but most definitely would be the starting 1B in 2017. You see the size and the potential and can envision 30 homers quite easily, with switch-hitting ability and a high average to boot. You really like his .317 average this year and drool at his .393 on-base percentage.
If you say “no”, you may point to the fact that for his size (6′-2″/235), Bell does not generate much in-game power. This year at Double A Altoona, Bell hit just 5 homers in 368 at-bats and had an isolated slugging percentage of just .120. In a callup to Triple A Indianapolis, Bell hit 2 homers in 121 at-bats (projecting to 6 in the same number of at-bats as he received in the AA level), but did have a better isolated slugging of .157. You probably also have read the reports and/or seen his lack of defensive acumen at 1B. He won’t make anyone forget the bad times of Pedro Alvarez’s defense. You feel he may max out in the high teens for homers and not feel that is befitting of all the hype and probably isn’t a true starter at 1B, even if he may have a decent average and draw some walks at the big league level. It’s also hard for you to see the cautious Pirates front office not wanting him to be promoted until he gets nearly the full season of AAA at-bats under his belt this year.
So where do the Pirates go from here? As stated in last week’s 1B article, my preference would be trade for Adam Lind from the Brewers. The left-handed Lind crushes righties, could pair with Morse in 2016, and makes just $8M. Maybe the Pirates could kick the tires on Mike Napoli and see if his resurgent stretch run with the Rangers was for real. Napoli is also a righty and he does have noticeable platoon splits against fellow right-handers, so that may make Morse the primary component against righties, which could be an awkward lineup composition.
Interestingly, a trade with the Twins could also be on the table. In our Mark Melancon trade destinations article, I mentioned that Trevor Plouffe could be in line for a trade due to the presence of uber-prospect Miguel Sano at 3B and Joe Mauer at 1B. And that was before Park was dropped into the equation.
Sadly, it definitely means that the Pirates can’t corner the market on virtually every South Korean baseball fan. At least this year.